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Moving: Past the hurdles

We’re now down to two weeks and two days to have a new home-sweet-home to call home. 

Inspection? Check.

Appraisal? Also check.

The two big hurdles were cleared with room to spare.  Getting termite and septic certificates from the sellers and choosing an insurance company are pretty much the only outstanding items for the underwriters to give us the all-clear and close on April 21.

Yes, that is correct.  It’s not a typo, if you’ve been paying attention to the dates.  We’ve gone from April 25 to April 22, now to April 21.  If we keep it up, we’ll be careening into an even-earlier closing date some time next week before we know it.  Just kidding. Really – please, no earlier than this newest date.

Happy hurdle-clearing,

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Moving: Out of my comfort zone

Moving, or–to be more specific–the process of buying and selling homes, induces high anxiety in me. Like most people, I’ve always taken home ownership seriously – it’s a big commitment, and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. But beyond that, my view of real estate transactions was warped by an unusual and thoroughly unnerving situation about two decades ago.

Two of our volunteer fence builders

Our first home was beginner’s luck, and we stumbled happily through the process.  We built a 1,200 square-foot house and it felt huge compared to the apartments and rentals we called home before it.  We were blessed by family and friends who pitched in to help us paint it, clean it and move in.   We sodded and fenced the yard ourselves.   (Well, the “boys” did the fencing, but I planted sod, too.)

All in all, it was truly a great starter home. Our oldest son was about two when we moved in; his baby brother came along the next year.

After a few years we felt we were quickly outgrowing the space, so we listed our sweet little home for sale. We fell hard for a two-story Tudor-style home on a wooded acre lot. With a contract on our home, we put in a contingency offer on this house and confidently assumed we would close on both homes on the same day in late February, moving out of one and into the other with minimal fuss.  What could possibly go wrong?

The nightmare began when we were midway through closing on our home.  The routine survey was complicated by unexpected flood zone issues as the Corps of Engineers maps had been updated since we built. The buyers bolted, the second home closing was canceled, and we had to turn back on the utilities and move back into our home.   Blindsided doesn’t begin to describe how we felt as we reeled through the days and weeks and months that followed.  We finally obtained a letter from the Corps of Engineers confirming our property was not in a flood zone.  By then, we had lived in the house for 9 years, and I was scared witless at the mere suggestion of selling and moving.

In the meantime, the baby (swimmer girl) came along and we were truly squeezed for space.  Shortly after baby girl’s first birthday, at the urging of a very conscientious and calming real estate agent (and friend), we successfully sold our little house after a single showing she arranged.  She made it easy, but I couldn’t assume it would be successful.  In fact, I refused to breathe a sigh of relief until we handed over the keys.  Fortunately our agent had located a house for us to rent after closing, or we might have been temporarily homeless.   Yes, I was really that fatalistic.

We built and moved into our second home six months later, but in less than three years, we found ourselves moving again, this time back to Tennessee. I house-hunted for two weeks and settled on the house we’re in now.  We successfully transitioned everyone and everything from one state to another just before school started, but the entire process was nerve-wracking.  Even though no missteps or mishaps occurred, I still couldn’t relax until the ink was dry.

And so here we’ve stayed ever since – in part because of my fear of moving (and buying and selling) again.  This house is our home, but it is my least-favorite house we’ve ever owned.  For whatever reason, seeing our old house for sale was the catalyst that overcame my paranoia and propelled me down the path of house hunting.

The house we first fell for has suddenly fallen into our laps.  It’s big, but not too big, and it has almost every feature on my wishlist.  Big kitchen with pantry, open floor plan, lots of closets, walk-in attic storage, soaring ceilings, lots of windows and a wraparound porch.   The backyard needs a fence, but has a nice big deck, storage shed, and room for my greenhouse and “outhouse”shed – I bet my neighbor will be so sad to see it–and us–disappear from his daily view, as we will him.

The “outhouse” shed in my garden.

The garage on the new house will hold our vehicles and the boat, and I can introduce my Louisiana iris and pond plants to the natural pond in the front yard to greet visitors and passers-by.  Truth be told, the place is a gardener’s delight, with rose bushes around the porch, and hints of perennials greening up among the spring bulbs already flowering.  We will be surrounded by horses, cattle, sheep, poultry, and even emus.  A few strategically placed trees will screen the few neighboring houses from view.

I want this house bad enough to steel myself for a month of emotional ups and downs as we run the steeplechase course of paperwork, inspections and appraisals.  Please hang with me during this process.  I’ll try to skip the boring details and share only the fun and instructive highlights of our experience as the journey progresses.

And maybe this time around, I will be finally be able to relax and enjoy the move.

Happy moving on,

P.S. A shout-out happy birthday to my dad.  May he blow out all the candles on his German chocolate cake and all his wishes come true!

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They say…

“A watched pot never boils.”

Literally speaking, it of course does boil, in exactly the same amount of time it would have boiled unmonitored.  It just seems to take longer if you stare at it.

Time always seems to creep by slowly when you’re waiting for something to happen.   I remember how slowly the hours seemed to creep by on Christmas Eve when I was a child. (As an adult, I’ve watched the same pre-Christmas hours fly by at alarming speed.)

All the indications are that this is a buyer’s market when it comes to real estate:

  • There’s a housing glut and housing prices are depressed due to foreclosures and short sales. 
  • No one is buying, for a myriad of reasons: economic worries, personal financial woes, and the need to sell one house before buying another one. 

So that should mean we can take our sweet time and move at our own pace.  Like shopping in a near-empty store – laid back, casual and calm.  No crowds, no frenzy, no lines, and no reason to get in a hurry.  My agent regularly emails me lists of homes that meet our criteria – if nothing suits my fancy, I should channel Scarlett O’Hara and promise to think about it tomorrow, biding my time until the next list comes out.

There’s no need to hover over RealTracs and Realtor.com, prepared to pounce on the newest listing as soon as it hits the market, right?

Right?

However, the day we put in an offer on a short sale property (back in early January), two other offers came in almost simultaneously with ours. Out of all the houses on the market, a house that had set empty and overpriced for months was suddenly the desired object of three buyers.  We still haven’t heard from the bank, so we have no idea if our offer is on the top of the heap, working its way from one pile to the next, or languishing at the bottom of some asset manager’s teetering list of things to ignore until they go away.

And just four days after going on the market, the second house we fell hard for already had an offer in on it when we submitted ours.  In real estate, the early bird usually gets the worm.  The second mouse does not always get the cheese.

After that debacle, I found myself remaining in a state of heightened alert. I don’t wait for those periodic reports to hit my email so I can scan them at my leisure. Instead, every day, twice a day, early morning and in the evening, I run searches through both databases, looking for any new listings that have come up.  Even on vacation, I’m trawling for new possibilities, and I’ve got my agent on speed dial.

And of course, almost no new homes have come on the market since I started this routine.

Because a watched pot never boils.

Going through the list of recently sold homes in the area is a lesson in and of itself: we missed some great opportunities because we weren’t paying close attention.  Before we left for spring break, I toured a couple homes that are high potential, and all I can do is hope that they are still available when we get back.

So I add my own caveat to that proverb:  watching the pot won’t make the water boil any faster, but neglecting a pot of boiling water isn’t advisable, either.

Happy Monday,

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Am I Goldilocks? Or Captain Ahab?

I guess my conscience and sub-conscious are double-teaming me: these two stories keep coming to mind.  Neither provides a particularly positive role model to emulate.

Some days I feel like Goldilocks as I snub one house after another:  that subdivision is too big, this home’s property is too small. This house needs too much work, that one doesn’t have a vaulted ceiling or a spot for the piano (and other random things that can make an otherwise lovely home untenable.)  

I don’t think I am being hopelessly picky.  In fact, I found the “just right” house back before Christmas.  Unfortunately a short sale is anything but short-lived, and we are still waiting on the bank to move forward on our offer.   After waiting around for several weeks, I finally began looking again.  I found another “just right” house a few weeks ago – but so did someone else, and their offer went in first.  We thought we might have a second shot at it when the seller and buyer found themselves at odds, but alas, it just wasn’t meant to be ours.

Thus far I’ve encountered no growling bears, but a few more disappointments like that could cause me to pack it in. 

More chilling is the whale of a tale known as Moby Dick.  If you haven’t read Melville’s literary classic in a while, the long (almost 2,000 pages) story short is, it’s a tale of a man who is determined–arguably  obsessed–to find and kill a specific whale that destroyed his boat and took his leg.

I suspect that I, in my house hunting might be likened to Captain Ahab, roaming the dangerous high seas of real estate, relentlessly pursuing an elusive quarry known as THE house.

Like Ahab, I bear the scars of a previous encounter with THE house. Several years ago, an attempt to move into a house (THE house at the time) ended disastrously. No lives or limbs were lost, but it was an epic failure nonetheless, and we suffered financial and emotional loss. Sloppy real estate agent, negligent surveyor, passive-aggressive buyers, attorneys and an ill-informed judge rounded out the cast of characters in that cautionary tale of how-not-to-buy-and-sell-houses.

That disastrous encounter with THE house definitely left a distinct impression on my psyche. It took time for the wounds to heal, and the scars are still present, if healed. I’m wondering how much of that experience is driving my current quest to find THE house. I guess I should take a lesson from the story, considering that in the end, Ahab harpooned the whale but then went down with his ship.

Happy(?) hunting,

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Is it a house, or THE house?

Remember a few weeks ago, when I said I was tempted to look for available houses? Well, they say if you seek, you WILL find, and that’s true especially in this real estate market.

And so here we are…about six weeks into serious house-hunting. We have rejected quite a few, have narrowed our focus down to three serious contenders, and of those, one that I think might be THE one.

How do you know if the house is THE house?  Or just A house?  A really nice house, but just a house?  There’s a feeling that says “this is it” but if you’re like me, you can get that fluttery feeling from more than one house. Sometimes it happens in two houses in a row, in less than an hour.  Hmmmm.  Am I THAT fickle?  (For those who know me, there’s no need to answer that one 🙂

In the absence of a strong sense of rightness, sometimes this decision boils down to cold, hard facts.  Price is certainly a consideration.  Size of property, size of house, size of rooms, size of closets – all important.  Location is also a key factor.  How many of my “most wanted” features does it have?  How many of Mr. Official’s most-desired features does it have?  (Does he HAVE a list of wish-list items?  Does any man?)

With our present house, I lobbied for it based on location (proximity to specific schools), size of backyard, and – strangely enough – its severely dated interior.  I was exiting a demanding career, and knew I’d need some major projects to keep me challenged and sane as I learned to adapt to life as a stay-at-home-mom.  A house that needed serious updating seemed like a good choice, and that’s what we got.  I learned a lot of things through the process (and not just how to hang cabinets or do a professional dry wall job.)  I learned that some things (like 8-foot ceilings and small windows) are not easily changed and to evaluate and consider the neighbors along with the neighborhood.

This time, I’m looking for move-in-ability.  I don’t want to have to do anything more serious than change the paint color in the bedrooms and have the carpets, kitchen, bathrooms and windows cleaned before we move in.   I’m also leaning toward a house that has virtually no neighbors, except for livestock.  Given where we’ve been over the past decade, quite frankly a few goats and horses and/or poultry living next door sounds pretty good.

Everyone’s different, every house is different, and every move is at a different point in our lives.  So is this THE one?  Or at least the one for now, tomorrow and a year or two from now?  I sure hope so….

Happy hunting,

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I know, I know…there is another major holiday a week after Christmas. But since we tend to usher in the new year pretty casually, I count this week as the last lap of my holiday race. Whatever we happen to do after December 25 is not planned or orchestrated by yours truly.

I am beyond thrilled to be able to RUN this last lap. Yes, as of last Wednesday, I am once again running. Not as far or fast as I was prior to the calf strain, but I will take any form of running I can get, even if it’s only 5 minutes at a time and at a poky pace of 5 MPH or thereabouts. Speed and endurance will be back soon enough.

The final bit of cookie and candy-making is wrapping up today, the cards are going in the mail, the shopping is closer to being done (we got sidetracked by some house shopping this weekend…) and so now we will scurry to finish the last few to-do’s and settle in to enjoy the holidays.

Happy sprinting,

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My Dream House Wishlist

I discovered the house we built in Oklahoma back in ’97 was recently up for sale. It was kind of weird looking at the interior pictures, and seeing no trace of the paint colors or wallpaper that we I picked out all those years ago. I recognized all the rooms and layout only because we physically touched every piece of the house from the time the foundation was poured until we put the last coat of paint on the upstairs bathroom and moved in.  (We’re very hands-on when it comes to building a home.)

It was in many ways our “dream house” – before breaking ground, we modified the builder’s original floorplan, adding space and features, and made it our own unique home. I spent hours going over plans with the cabinetmaker before he began crafting the custom maple cabinets for our kitchen, baths and laundry, the stair rails and fireplace mantels.

The house we are in now was not (and is not) our dream house. But it is our home, and has been for over ten years. During that time, we have replaced roofs and floors, and pretty much everything in between. There is little in this house that is original to its mid-70s construction, except for the structure hidden behind the drywall and under the flooring.  If the previous owners saw it, they would probably feel much the same way about it as I do about our last home.

But our updates and remodeling efforts have been restricted by the house’s footprint and roofline – which are respectively small and low. There are definitely some good points to the house we’re in – it’s on an acre with plenty of big trees, I have a HUGE laundry room, cavernous shower, a walk-in pantry to die for, and the location can’t be beat. (And it’s almost paid off – which is pretty sweet.)

So what would I wish for if I could build or gut and re-do another house (BEFORE moving in)? Many things. But here’s my top ten wishlist items for the next house – whenever that might happen:

  1. A bigger kitchen. Not commercial-size – I don’t want to run a marathon to fix dinner. But I really doubt I will get duped into another 9×18 space for kitchen and eating area. Fool me once, all that.
  2. A walk-in pantry.  I will miss my big pantry I have now, unless I find a way to have another one.  (Note to self:  forget the “mom cave” – just give me a big honkin’ pantry, preferably with built-in cabinets, electrical outlets and maybe even a sink beneath a window, with countertops on either side.)
  3. Taller ceilings.   I’m no giant, but even at my stature, eight-foot-ceilings feel a little claustrophobic, especially when you’ve lived in a house with soaring space above your head.
  4. Fireplaces.  As in multiple – one outdoors, and at least two or three indoors.  They are one of the things that make winter bearable.
  5. Windows, windows, and more windows. Tall windows that let in lots of light.  And that tilt in for cleaning.
  6. Closets, closets, and more closets.  B-I-G closets. There ought to be a law that all closets must be large enough to do what they’re designed to do (plus some wiggle room), whether they are for linens or coats or clothes.
  7. A central vacuum.  Had one, loved it, would love one again.
  8. A garbage disposal.  (Or, put another way – no septic system.)  It’s the little things that mean a lot.  You don’t miss ’em until you don’t have them any more.
  9. A walk-in attic.  One that you can actually stand up and WALK around in.  Every time I pull down the attic stairs, I get a mental image of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and flinch at the though of the staircase smacking me in the face.  It can’t, but it just feels like it might.  And hauling my Christmas decorations up and down attic stairs and stooping over at the waist to tuck them away is JUST NO FUN.
  10. A covered or screened-in porch.  With a niche for a TV (above that outdoor fireplace) and an adjacent hot tub, preferably with a view of a pond, stream or other burbling natural water feature, close enough to hear and far enough away to not pose a flooding threat.

Hmmm.  This makes me want to pull up some homes-for-sale sites and just take a peek at what’s on the market.  (Stop hyperventilating, I was just kidding!  Well, maybe I was, and maybe I wasn’t…)

So what’s on your list of must-have’s in a dream home?

Happy dreaming!

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